Author's Note: It's been a while! Sorry. And it will be a while before I post the next chapter… I haven't got much time to write these days, unfortunately. But I hope you'll enjoy this instalment, it's one of my personal favourites so I hope others like it too…

Disclaimer: You know it all already…

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"Welcome home, Master" the cheerful Hobbit at the gates said as he opened the gate for the three riders. "And welcome home to you too, young miss Éowyn and young master Faramir. My, it looks like young master Faramir has come of age a few months ahead!"

Faramir smiled at the gatekeeper as he rode into the Shire with his uncle and second cousin. It had been a long and lonely journey back to the Shire, Uncle Merry had not been in his most friendly mood and the tension between all three Hobbits had been unlike anything Faramir had experienced before. The words from the gatekeeper warmed his heart now even more than the familiar sight of the Shire did; it made him feel truly good about himself for the first time since he left Minas Tirith. If even the gatekeeper could see a change in him then surely his father must as well.

"Well we're back home" Merry said simply as they rode down the familiar paths. "How does it feel?"

"Strange" Éowyn said.

"Wonderful" Faramir claimed.

"It can often be both at the same time" Merry said. "Éowyn you ride back to Brandy Hall right away and see your mother. Tell her I shall be there shortly. I just have to escort Faramir to the Smials first."

"But Uncle Merry, I can find my own way home!" Faramir protested. He didn't like being treated as if he needed escort.

"I know you can" Merry said. "But I promised your father I would follow you all the way back and so I shall. Ride along now Éowyn, I will see you again at supper."

Éowyn galloped away towards Brandy Hall. Faramir bit his lower lip and felt nervous being alone with his uncle for the first time since the events two years before. He had no idea what his uncle thought of him nowadays, he knew he had let him down just like everybody else.

"Uncle Merry…" he said.

"Yes?"

"I just wanted to say… I never got the chance to tell you… I feel really bad about all that happened… You know… How we led you to believe--"

"Please, don't waste your breath" Merry said.

Faramir was stumped. He didn't know how to interpret that. Either it meant there was nothing he could say to be forgiven or it meant he already was forgiven. He could not tell which it was and was afraid to ask any further questions so he let the matter be as they rode across the Brandywine Bridge.

XX
XX

It surprised Faramir to see how many Hobbits came to greet him once they reached the Smials. Once the first cry of: "Why it's young Master Faramir!" had been heard Hobbits came from every available exit to greet him, and check if he had grown as his father sometimes did after being away. Faramir graciously smiled and said hello back at them, but noticed that his parents were not among the greeters. Then again nobody knew they were coming back today and they might be busy or not even home.

"Back up everybody" Merry said, used to the inevitable commotion of return. "Give us some room. The ponies are startled, they haven't seen this many Hobbits in one place for months! Careful with that!"

Faramir dismounted his pony and looked up at his uncle. Part of him was glad the journey was over; there had been a lot of negative tension between the three Hobbits on the way home. But part of him was terrified of the moment when Merry would leave and he would have to seek out his parents. What if they were still angry with him? What if he would not manage to make them proud of him?

"Give your best to your father from me" Merry said. "I have to return home and speak with my wife and children. Good luck…" The last bit he added under his breath as he rode off.

Faramir declined all offers for someone else to take care of his pony for him. He didn't mind prolonging the inevitable meeting with his parents, plus he wanted them to know he was responsible now and took care of his own matters. The Hobbits who followed him to the stables did not seem to notice that he was quieter than usual and not as jolly. He had begun to learn how to hide his emotions.

When the pony was thoroughly taken care of he could not linger anymore. He had to face them sooner or later and he might as well get it over with. He took a deep breath and stepped inside, asking the first Hobbit he met where the Thain and Madam might be.

XX
XX

He found them in the sitting room, Pippin reading a book with a pipe in his mouth and Diamond carding wool. They both looked up when he came into the room, and Diamond tossed aside her carding comb and threw her arms around him.

"My little baby!" she cried, making Faramir feel awkward. "My baby's home! Oh let me look at you!"

Faramir smiled slightly at her. He was still the same height and his hair had not gotten curlier, which pleased Diamond who didn't know anything about Ent brew and thought Pippin's odd growing spurts had something to do with Gondor. But Faramir was still the same Faramir that had left the Shire, not clad in a black and silver armour like his father owned but in a more casual Gondorian outfit. He had never been taken up among the citadel guards and did not count as a soldier. His ceremonial outfit was nice but a lot less grand than Pippin's. From his shoulders hung the old cape Pippin had given him.

Pippin watched the reunion between mother and son without saying a word. He already knew Faramir was back, he had heard the commotion earlier but chosen not to say anything to Diamond, preferring it to be a good surprise for her. Seeing her hug and kiss her son and how uncomfortable he was starting to look brought him back to his own return from his first journey, where his mother had treated him like he was six years old and coddled him with all her might.

So Faramir was back. Pippin wondered if they had gotten back the Faramir he left behind in Minas Tirith a year ago or if Faramir had begun the process of becoming everything Pippin hoped he could be. Pippin hoped that would be the case, their whole future was in Faramir's hands.

When Diamond was finally done saying hello to her son Faramir's attention was turned to Pippin. He took a step towards him and resisted the urge to bite his lip nervously. He could feel Pippin's eyes appraising him and he wondered what he would do if he was told he did not measure up. For a moment he felt like he was a little boy again, desperate for his father's approval and affection. He bowed to his father and tried to remember all the decorum he had been taught in Gondor.

Pippin rose from his chair, putting the book aside, and blew a smoke ring with his pipe. So far so good. The boy was nervous but he took that as a good sign. Some of his cockiness had been taken out of him and he was more humble now, which Pippin saw as a good quality.

"Faramir" he said.

"Thain."

"Welcome home. How was the journey?"

Diamond watched the two filled with sadness. She hated how formal they were with one another, she knew Pippin had missed Faramir as much as she had yet he could not even bring himself to give the boy a hug. How had they ever come to this?

XX
XX

By the end of their afternoon tea Faramir felt he could not wait any longer. He had had something on his mind from the moment he arrived but had been reluctant to show himself too eager. But by now he had been home for hours and he didn't want to wait any longer.

"Mother…" he said. "I must speak with the Thain. In private."

With a sigh Diamond got up and began to clear the table.

"Faramir dear I don't know what they told you in Gondor, but in the Shire we don't address our parents by title. Your father can say what he wants in that matter, but it gives me chills hearing you call him that, so just refer to him as you always have if you will."

Faramir nodded and blushed as she left the sitting room with her tray. He took a deep breath and looked over at his father who had lit his pipe and was leaning back in his chair with closed eyes. Faramir grabbed his own pipe and lit it, soothed by the pipe weed.

"So, what is it you must speak to me about?" Pippin asked and opened his eyes.

"Something important" Faramir said.

"Then out with it."

"Before I left, after you found out about… everything. You told me that had I merely come to you from the start you would have accepted Goldilocks as my bride."

"Ah" Pippin said and blew a smoke ring. "That's the matter."

"You told me that after what went on you would no longer allow me to ask the Mayor--"

"You can call him Samwise."

"Ask Samwise for her hand. But you also said that if I returned a Hobbit you could be proud of you would no longer find any problems with me asking Samwise for his daughter's hand in marriage. And now I have returned, and I was wondering…"

"Wondering what? If I still mean it? Have you known me to lie?"

"Never" Faramir said. "I am hoping you will find me a son to be proud of, and that you will grant me permission to court the lass I have loved for four years."

Pippin took a long and thorough look at him. Faramir had a horrible feel he did not measure up but he did not dare to say anything to try and convince his father if that were the case. All he could do then was to give it time and do his best to prove that he was worthy. Pippin on his end was surprised that Faramir was still set on being with this lass. He would have thought that flame would die after more than a year with no contact between the two.

"Too soon to tell whether you've grown up or not, wouldn't you say?" Pippin finally said. "You are coming of age this fall and perhaps by then we will know whether or not you are a pride to the family." He blew another smoke ring. "I never lie, as you know. I told you that you could ask Sam for her hand once you returned, apparently, though I have to admit I can't remember it. Sam is doing business in Buckland today; I shall send word to him to come here for dinner."

"So… Is that a yes?"

"You fulfilled your part of the deal, I suppose" Pippin said. "If it's permission you want then go ahead."

He rose and left the room to find someone to ride to Buckland and give the message to Sam. Faramir watched him go and felt sad even though he had gotten the end result that he wanted. But he realised he had not been wanting for his father's permission, but his blessing. The latter had not been given.

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XX

Faramir stormed up to Pippin's study and was about to enter when he realised he ought to knock. Impatiently he shifted his weight from one foot to the other while waiting for an answer. When it came he hurried inside and sat down in a chair without waiting for an invitation. What did it matter anyway?

Pippin gave him a look and went over and closed the door. He then looked at his son and wondered what had gotten into him. It was early morning and usually Faramir would be sleeping at this hour, but he might have gained some new habits in Minas Tirith. Pippin knew he had spoken to Sam last night and realised Faramir would be anxious to get to Hobbiton now in order to speak to Goldilocks about the matter. But this seemed a bit much.

"What can I do for you this morning?" Pippin asked him and sat down opposite Faramir.

"He turned me down" Faramir said. "Sam said no!"

Pippin didn't respond. He pondered this bit of information for a bit. So Sam had said no to the proposal. Pippin had not expected that. But it was Sam's choice whether or not he wanted to give his daughter away and Faramir would have to accept it.

"I know you're disappointed" he finally said. "But you must have pondered the possibility."

"No, why should I have?" Faramir said. "I did everything that was asked of me! I spent a whole year in Gondor, and now it was all for nothing!"

"Now you listen here," Pippin said, getting angry, "I did not send you to Gondor so that you could come back and marry the daughter of a lower class family in Hobbiton! I sent you there for you to learn how to become a Thain! That is your main focus in life, that is your duty and your obligation! Whoever you might fall in love with, she comes second! Understand?"

Faramir had a poisonous reply but kept it to himself. It was obvious that he wouldn't get any further with his father if he snapped at him. But a suspicion had begun forming in his mind. Pippin had not seemed enthusiastic about the proposal the other day and now he didn't seem disappointed that it was never going to happen. Faramir couldn't help but wonder if he had been lured off to Gondor under false pretences, and that his father had given him his consent the other day because he knew Sam would say no. Perhaps his father never had any intention at all of seeing Faramir married to Goldilocks.

"Perhaps it is time for you to let this go now" Pippin said. "You cannot always win at love. You haven't even seen her in over a year; chances are you only love the memory of her."

The words were uncomfortably familiar to Faramir. Finally he realised that he could do nothing more now but give up. He had tried everything and he had failed. There were no other things to try. Part of him knew he shouldn't take it so hard. During the three summers he was with Goldilocks he never for a minute believed they would be together for life, he had always known he would have to let go sooner or later. But then he had allowed himself to hope and that made it so much more difficult to let it go now.

With a sigh he got up and left the study without another word. He needed to be alone. Pippin watched him leave with a frown on his face.

XX
XX

Sam took a deep breath and filled his lungs with air, sitting on a small bridge crossing a small river. He should have returned to Bag End the night before but he had decided to stay behind in Tuckburough and do business. He was done now however and was only going to take a few more moments before he rode back home.

Pippin walked up to him and sat down next to him by the edge of the bridge, holding on to one of the beams. He looked at his friend and decided not to take a moment to just sit there and relax but to get to the point right away.

"I spoke with Faramir this morning" he said. "He tells me you told him no."

"That I did" Sam nodded.

"Why did you do that?" Pippin asked. "Surely there must be a good reason why you broke my boy's heart? Did you not see them together that day when we found out, did you not see how they looked at one another? We know they're in love! And I know what they both did was wrong, but my son has paid for that mistake! He has been gone for a year, learning to be a good leader, and as much as I wanted him to do it for Tuckburough he did it for her. Why are you rejecting him now? Why is he not good enough for your daughter?"

"That is not what this is about" Sam said.

"What else could it be?" Pippin asked. "Frankly Sam I am offended! My boy might have made serious mistakes but your daughter made them too, and forgive me for being so blunt but she has not remedied that. Faramir has! I cannot for the life of me figure out why he is not good enough for her!"

"He is" Sam said. "And that's the reason I said no. She is not good enough for him and I cannot allow her to marry him."

"What?"

"Mister Pippin I love my daughter, but she is just a Gamgee. Daughter of a gardener, fit to work for the likes of your son but marry him? Absolutely not! It just ain't right!"

"She is your daughter, daughter to the Mayor and one of the biggest heroes in Middle-Earth! That is good enough for me."

"But a Gamgee wed with a Took? No happiness can come in such an odd match! There is a reason why you Tooks arrange marriages, to keep the bloodline clean! A Gamgee as Madam Took, that's unheard of! The future Thain being half Gamgee! You have to realise how ridiculous that sounds, Pippin! I am proud of my family but we belong in the gardens, not among the shriffs or in the great halls of the Smials!"

"Faramir said something to me which I think he is absolutely right about. You, Merry and I are all too focused on names and pride and honour! Who cares if she was born a Gamgee?"

"I do" Sam said. "My father would have been ashamed of me had I let my daughter marry into the Tooks, because it ain't fitting! And even if she can be accepted for my doings in the past, she is only half Gamgee. She is also half Cotton and that family is also too simple. Furthermore, heritage aside, look at what she did! You are absolutely right, she has not redeemed herself. It would shame your family to let her marry into it."

"My son deserves to be happy" Pippin said. "And Goldilocks will make him happy. I'm sorry Sam, but none of your reasons are good enough to me!"

"I have made my decision, I said no and I meant it."

"Change your mind."

"I won't."

"Why not?"

"For every reason I just stated! She's not good enough and she never will be!"

"You know what Sam?" Pippin said. "It is not up to you to make that decision! It is up to me to decide whether or not she is appropriate to marry my son and I told my son that she was! You determine whether or not my son is good enough for your daughter, but not the other way around! You are not making your decision, you are making my decision and you have no right to do so! Unless you can look my boy in the eye and tell him why he is not good enough for her then you have no reason to deny him!"

"Maybe you don't care about such things as decorum and heritage and what's fitting anymore, but I do!"

"Sometimes decorum, heritage and what's fitting needs to change" Pippin said. "Frankly I think a little Gamgee blood, or Cotton for that matter, might be just what this family needs."

"I'm sorry Pippin" Sam said. "There will not be a marriage. I wouldn't feel right about it, ever! Your son is too good to marry so far below his class."

"No" Pippin said and got up. "He's too good to wake up one day next to someone he doesn't love, wondering where his life went!"

XX
XX

A week later Pippin found his son eyeing through an old book of maps, looking gloomy and disillusioned. It saddened Pippin to see Faramir like this, the lad needed to cheer up and get on with his life again. Things did not always go as one wanted them to, and when they didn't you just had to accept it and move on.

"Faramir!" he said and slammed the map book shut causing Faramir to jump back. "I have decided that it's time for you to start earning your keep around here."

"Pardon?" Faramir said, knowing very well that he earned his keep.

"You were trained in Gondor for a year and I will not let the knowledge you acquired go to waste. I am getting old Faramir; I could use a helping hand with Tuckburough. I think it would be good for you to get to try out your future job for a while. If you learn the ropes now it will be easier for you in the future. So I have decided that from this moment on you are officially my new assistant."

"Jolly good" Faramir muttered but knew better than to object.

"Come along, we have no time to waste. And do change your clothes, it's a formal meeting and a more proper attire is appropriate."

"May I ask what we are to be doing?" Faramir asked and rolled his eyes at the new tradition inflicted by his father's generation to wear formal clothes for formal meetings. He wished his father would just let him be alone with his thoughts.

"To Hobbiton, I have a business meeting with Sam this afternoon."

Faramir felt himself stagger a bit. Sam was the last person he felt like meeting with right now, he felt let down by the older Hobbit and seeing him would only serve as a reminder of the daughter Sam had not let Faramir marry. He opened his mouth to object but closed it again and reluctantly followed his father out to the stables. He knew his father would only get angry with him if he spoke what was on his mind, and he had learned during his year away the importance of setting your personal feelings aside when matters of your land had to be dealt with.

"I was going to wait until you turned 33" Pippin said as they began to ride towards Hobbiton. "But your birthday is only at the other end of summer and from the looks of it you need something to occupy your mind with."

"I suppose you're right" Faramir said. "Whenever I'm not busy I keep thinking of…"

He trailed off and Pippin glanced at him from the corner of his eye.

"I know you are upset that things did not go as you wished" he said. "As your father I have more pearls of wisdom to hand out than you might think. For instance I know that you might lose something and feel like nothing as good will ever come again. Then suddenly you find that because of your loss you won something even better. So you might feel like you've lost everything right now but times will change and you will land on top in the end. You will have a family down the road, even if Goldilocks is no part of it."

"Pardon me Father, but I don't think you can know how I feel."

"I do" Pippin said. "Your mother was not my first choice for a wife."

"Oh I don't want to hear it" Faramir snarled.

He knew with certainty that his parents had been brought together by an arrangement rather than married out of love. He feared the same fate happening to him, he wanted more than what his father had, he wanted a loving marriage and a whole smial full of children. Though regardless of what he wanted for himself he loved both his parents and did not want to hear either of them say anything bad about the other. He did not want to hear from his father's lips how he had been forced to settle for Faramir's mother.

XX
XX

When they reached Hobbiton it was later than Pippin had expected, the sun was beginning to set over the hills. Faramir halted his pony when they neared their destination and gave his father an angry glare.

"You said we were going to Hobbiton!"

"We are in Hobbiton Faramir, don't tell me you've been away that long" Pippin said and rode on, paying no heed to Faramir stopping.

"Yes but you never said anything about Bag End!"

"Sooner or later you will have to visit Bag End again" Pippin said and halted his pony by the old familiar Hobbit hole. "You might as well get used to it. Now be on your best behaviour."

Faramir made an angry face but composed himself when Merry and Robin came out to take care of their ponies. Pippin dismounted his pony and handed the reins to Merry without a word and Faramir was grateful that it was Robin taking care of his beast. Seeing Merry again only reminded Faramir of the disastrous events two years back.

He followed his father inside and was greeted by half a dozen Gamgees who were all getting ready for supper. Rosie had set an extra plate and sent Daisy to get another one when she saw that Faramir would be joining them as well. Faramir greeted Sam politely but not as cordially as he had always done in the past. When they sat down to eat Faramir noticed in Goldilocks in the corner of his eye, but he did not dare to look at her. He had not laid eyes on her for more than a year and a half, but he knew that when he did he would love her just as he had loved her before, and it would hurt too much to know that he would never be with her. He knew she must be confused as to his behaviour, before he left he had as good as promised her he would marry her and now he would not even look at her. But perhaps it was better if she thought that he had forgotten about his feelings and begun to regret the promise he made. He knew how hard it was to know the love was there but not be able to act upon it; he preferred it if she thought there was no love at all.

After they had eaten Pippin thanked the Gamgees for a splendid meal and then with a glance at the clock suggested that they should retreat to Sam's study to get down to business. Faramir followed the two older Hobbits without a word, hoping they would be done soon so he could go back home. He was worried that if things were delayed they might have to spend the night. He remembered the last night he spent here very vividly and did not wish for a reprise.

XX
XX

Goldilocks was alone in the library when Faramir found her there. She looked up at him and couldn't help but smile when she saw him. He looked as handsome as she remembered him, perhaps even more so as he closed the door to give them some privacy, dressed in a formal outfit she knew he must have acquired in Gondor and looking at her with eyes that showed evidence of a year of learning and growing up. He had refused to as much as look at her during dinner and part of her wished he would turn away and leave now, because there was only one reason for his behaviour that she could think of. He had come to let her know that things were indeed over between them, whether by his father's refusal to stand by them or by his own feelings fading. Goldilocks hoped it would be the former, she had loved Faramir intensely during all the months he had been gone and she could not stand the thought of him not feeling the same way.

Faramir looked at her for a moment without saying a word. The light in the library was dim but it only seemed to enhance her features. He had longed to see her again for so long and now he was afraid of what he had to do. He took a trembling breath and walked up to her.

"Welcome home" she said, then laughed at herself for the silly opening.

"Goldilocks I must have a word with you" he said.

She looked down at her feet, unable to meet his eyes, and nodded. Yes, she knew. She only wished he would hurry up and get it all over with.

"You and I both knew from the first moment that it was impossible" he began. "We thought we could play a game together because the knowledge that it was never going to be real would keep us from feeling anything for one another. But we were wrong. We had three summers together, went behind everybody's backs, broke every code we could think of to break."

"Please, Faramir, just…"

"Let me finish" Faramir cut her off. "When we were found out my whole life fell apart. I lost my parents' faith in me, I was sent away to a far away place where I lived among humans in high castles and experienced things I had never dreamt of experiencing. I carried the thought of you with me all this time, hoping against hope that when I returned something would have changed and we would be able to be together. Though it was a fool's hope, I know that now. The warnings were ringing in my ear from the very first time I looked at you and thought I saw something more than just a friend from childhood. A Gamgee and a Took, no such match has ever been heard of. It ain't fitting, as your father eloquently puts it."

"I know" Goldilocks whispered and swallowed hard. She was grateful for the dim lights which hopefully would prevent him from seeing the tears that were beginning to roll down her cheeks. She wondered why he didn't just say the words flat out, why he had to torture her this way. He had to leave and it was better for the both of them if he just left without looking back.

"Yet I stand here today looking at you, knowing that I still love you." Faramir continued. "Goldilocks look at me."

When she didn't comply he placed his hand under her chin and tilted her head up so that their eyes met. He then grabbed both her hands in his.

"And I have realized that, as my father even told me, it was never us being together that was wrong, it was the way we handled our blossoming romance. I wronged you when I courted you in secret and I am deeply ashamed of that. Let us both agree that we will save the grandchildren that particular story."

"Faramir please!" Goldilocks said angrily. "This is no time to be making jokes!"

"You're right, I'm sorry."

She turned her eyes down again and Faramir kneeled down so that he ended up in the way of her gaze anyhow.

"Goldilocks… Before I left I told you that when I returned we could be together."

"Yes, but--"

"Just let me finish, please!" Faramir said. "That promise I made was for real. If you will have me then we can finally have what we wanted for all those years but never dared to talk about."

"What?" Goldilocks asked, causing Faramir to laugh.

"I am asking you to be my wife, Goldilocks. Stop looking at me like I am insane! I have worked long and hard for months, I have faced my father and yours and the only person left now is you. I would much like an answer from you, and if it's not the answer I hope for then I promise I will leave you alone. But if you still care for me and want to be married to me then accept my proposal and your name will be Goldilocks Took before winter is here."

"Are you mad?" was all Goldilocks could think of to say. Then she laughed. "Of course I would marry if you if only I could!"

"Then it is settled?" Faramir asked. "You will be my wife?"

"What about our fathers?"

"Never mind all of that. Right now this is between you and me. Will you marry me?"

"Yes of course I will!"

With a smile on his face Faramir rose and kissed her for the first time in over a year. Then he gently kissed away the tears that had fallen down her cheeks.

"You scoundrel, you had me convinced you were here to end things with me" Goldilocks said and hugged him tight. "You sounded so… sad!"

"I wasn't sure you wanted me still. And a refusal at this point would have been way too much for my already bruised ego."

Goldilocks laughed again and kissed him. She could not believe how everything had turned around in only a matter of minutes. Before a year had passed she would be Faramir's wife.

XX
XX

Pippin was busy folding up his Elf cape when Faramir came to the room where they slept when visiting Bag End. A glance at his son told Pippin that things had gone the way Faramir had wanted, but he still felt obliged to ask.

"Did she say yes?"

"Congratulations Father, you will have a daughter-in-law before the end of the year. From September 22nd actually, if Goldie and I get our way."

A slight smile appeared on Pippin's face.

"Congratulations then" he said.

Faramir looked at his father and in the midst of his joy he began to wonder about all the things he had no answers for. He had no idea what really went on in his father's mind, whether or not he was actually happy or what he would have to say if he would just tell Faramir flat out what he thought. Though he was glad that his father was here, glad to have someone from his family there to share this night with him. He had arrived at Bag End at broken spirits but now everything had changed. He had no idea why, but he knew better than to question it. He had been given the greatest gift he could ever have asked for, that was enough. Still his curious mind would not quite let the matter rest.

"I wonder what made Sam change his mind" he said and unfastened his own cape.

"Does it matter?" Pippin had to ask.

"No not really…"

Faramir continued to glance at his father from the corner of his eye as they got ready for bed. At least he didn't seem upset or annoyed with the outcome of the evening; in fact Faramir got the feeling that Pippin was rather content. Faramir thanked his lucky stars that his father had insisted on him coming along to Bag End this evening. If he hadn't, things might have worked out quite differently in the end.

"Did you know Sam would change his mind when you brought me here tonight?" he had to ask as he crawled between the sheets.

Pippin gave him an insulted look.

"Do you think I like having my son looking at me like he thinks I somehow kept him from this engagement even though I gave him my consent?" he asked. "And do you think that I would want to have you look at me with even more judgment when you found out that Sam has had a change of heart? Yes I knew when I brought you here. And I will thank you to stop looking at me with those judging eyes. You are not a child anymore, you are fully grown. If you want something it is not my job to stand in the way of that."

With those words Pippin snuffed out the lights and closed his eyes to go to sleep. But Faramir could not sleep so easily. Now he had the consent of his father and of Sam, he had a promise from Goldilocks that they would marry, but there was still one thing missing. He wanted back the bond he had once shared with his father. But in the end he knew that he could never have everything he wanted and decided not to think about what he would have chosen if he had to decide between a bond with Goldilocks and the bond he had counted upon with his father.

XX
XX

"This will interest you" Merry said and gave Lucky a playful smack with a letter he held in his hands. "Put down that plant and come listen."

Lucky obediently put aside the roots he had brought home to dry and followed his father to the sitting room were larger parts of the family were gathered. He sat down on a stool next to Cordy and wondered what the letter was about. Normally his father wouldn't tell them anything about what his letters said so whatever this was it must be special. Lucky wondered if they wanted to give his father yet another title but it sounded a bit extreme.

Merry motioned for Estella to get up from her armchair and then sat down in it while she placed herself in his lap. He reached for his pipe and lit it, taking a puff before he went on to tell them what the letter said. All except for Aramac and Éowyn were there, and he didn't feel like finding out where they were, he wanted to give the news right away. The two missing ones would hear about it by the end of the day anyways.

"I just received a letter from King Elessar" he told them and held up the letter for them to see. "Aside from sending well-wishes all around he has some interesting news that I thought you would all like to hear."

"If he is calling you to service then I shall personally write back to him and tell him you wish to be relieved of service" Estella said.

"Estella please, you know I have never sworn such allegiance to Gondor."

"You can bicker about that later, what does the letter say?" Lúthien asked impatiently.

"He writes to tell me that he is sending an Elf to visit us" Merry said.

"An Elf!" Lucky said and his face lit up. "Is it Legolas?"

"No it is not Legolas; in fact I cannot even remember this one. But apparently I met him before, a long time ago when he did a painting of me for the Gondorian halls."

"A painting?" Théo said.

"Yes, to think that there's a painting of me hanging in the citadel somewhere. Strider is mighty sentimental even though you would never have him admit it; he had paintings made of all of us at one point or another."

"Get on with it, stop blabbering about Gondor and your kings" Estella said with a jesting tone and playfully pinched Merry on the arm.

"Now that Pippin's son and Sam's daughter are marrying Aragorn apparently came to the conclusion that it would be nice to have some new paintings to fill the walls with. And since the Hall has room for a tall figure the Elvish painter will be living here while he is doing his work. Aragorn wants paintings of Sam, Pippin and myself but also paintings of us with our families. Aside from Sam's for some reason, he only wants a painting of Sam and Rose, probably because there are no canvases that are big enough for the whole Gamgee family. He will arrive in two weeks and leave in August."

"That gives him only two months to make all those paintings" Théo said sounding sceptical.

"He is an Elf, of course he can manage in two months" Lucky scoffed.

"They have a remarkable way of remembering things, he can do most of it from memory" Merry said. "I know when he painted us the last time around I stood for him quite often but Pippin lost his patience after two times. The painting still looks very much like him. I don't think there shall be any problems, Théo."

"This is so exciting!" Lucky said. "I can't wait to meet this Elf! Is he from Rivendell? Or Mirkwood?"

"Inquisitive young Hobbit!" Merry sighed. "I can't remember where he came from originally, now he lives with Legolas near Ithilien."

"Perhaps he was one of those I met when Legolas brought me to Rivendell" Lucky said.

"I should hardly think so; those were all Rivendell Elves save for Legolas himself. Anyhow, now you know that we will have an Elf visitor and that you are all required to pose."

"Still, this is so exciting!"

"What is exciting?" Éowyn asked as she entered and sat down on a pillow.

"An Elf is coming to visit us!" Lucky happily declared.

"Not a friendly visit though" Merry pointed out. "He is here to do a job."

"Yes, something about a painting, but don't you think it's exciting that we will have an Elf living with us again?"

Éowyn smiled at her brother but didn't comment. Pretending to be excited was not something she was up for. She couldn't help it but ever since she had heard of Faramir and Goldilocks' engagement she had been feeling very jealous. It didn't seem fair to her that they could be married and she could not even court Merry Gamgee. Though she knew that for anything to happen he would have to make the first move, and knowing Merry he wouldn't. He would keep away, afraid of making things worse if he didn't. Éowyn could only hope that someday they could be together just like Faramir and Goldilocks got to be.

XX
XX

Faramir took a deep breath and admired his reflection in the mirror. At last the day was here, September 22nd, his and Goldilocks' wedding day. Faramir had just turned 33, he was now legally of age, grown up on the inside and about to become a husband. He had barely been able to sleep the night before and now he was glad that the room he was in had no window for it almost scared him to think what the meadow outside would be looking like. He had no idea how many guests would be there but he was guessing it would be a great deal. He didn't even know what arrangements had been made in ways of decorations and a wedding arch; he had stayed indoors all day long. Part of him could not believe that he would walk out into the meadow as just Faramir and walk back inside the Smials later as somebody's husband.

There was a knock on the door and Pippin entered. With a smile on his face he looked at his son who was the spitting image of himself at a younger age. Faramir was dressed in his finest clothes and had made an effort to get the unruly curls in order.

"How do you feel?" Pippin asked and walked over to adjust Faramir's collar.

"I'm not nervous if that's what you mean" Faramir said, almost snapping at his father. He didn't like any hints that perhaps he wasn't sure about this after all.

But if Pippin had caught the tone in Faramir's voice he didn't let it show. He continued to smile and gently brushed some strains of hair off Faramir's shoulder. Pippin was happy today, even though he knew his wife was far from as pleased. Diamond had been furious with him when she found out he had allowed Faramir to marry a Gamgee, as much as she wanted happiness for her son she also believed in marrying into your own class and this was certainly not such a marriage. But Pippin ignored her anger; as long as she didn't let anything on in front of Faramir then she could feel however she wanted about it. The decision had not been hers to make and Pippin was pleased with the decision he had made.

"I would say you look handsome, but since you look just like I did at that age it would be blowing my own horn" he joked and grinned at his son. "The wedding is about to start, you have another five minutes before you have to go."

Faramir nodded and cast another look in the mirror. It was odd to look at his father and know that he would look the same way in a few decades. He had always been so proud of resembling his father so much, and even though their relationship was conflicted he still felt a lot of pride over that. He knew now better than ever in how high regards Pippin was held in Gondor and being his son had made quite the impression on the people of Minas Tirith. It was odd that in the Shire it simply meant being the son of the Thain. The people of Minas Tirith knew and remembered things that the Hobbits had no knowledge of at all.

"There is one matter before you go out there and get married" Pippin said. "Something I want to give to you. Actually something I want to lend to you, it is quite valuable and I shall require to have to back when the day is over. But I wanted you to wear it at your wedding."

Faramir smiled at his father and reached up his hand to the clasp of his cape, expecting his father to lend him the Elf cape. But the cape remained hanging from Pippin's shoulders; he made no effort to remove it. Instead he held up something Faramir had not even noticed that he had been holding in his left hand.

"This belt was a gift from Galadriel, queen of Lothlórien" Pippin said and fastened it around Faramir's waist. "It was a grand gift by all accounts and I wanted my son to wear it when he gets married. I wore it when I did. It is the most valuable thing I own as far as I'm aware, materially speaking."

"It's very grand!" Faramir said, astounded by the belt he was sure he had never seen before. "Thank you! I shall take good care of it, even if it's only for a day."

"I know you will" Pippin said and resisted the urge to tousle Faramir's curls. "I must be going now. You have three minutes."

Faramir watched him leave and felt something close to a lump form in his throat. But he shrugged the feeling and took one last look in the mirror before it was time. Then he took a deep breath and walked out towards the door that would lead him out of the Smials and down the path leading to the wedding arch. By the door he saw Théodoc and Aramac waiting for him, they would accompany him as customs required. Faramir had originally wanted Cordy to be one of the two, but the short meeting he had had with his old friend a month back had made it clear to him that although Cordy was happy for him he was not interested in reviving their old friendship. Faramir had also thought about asking Merry Gamgee, since it for some reason felt fitting given that he had been the lad to know about Faramir and Goldilocks the longest, but reason told him it would not be fitting and that he would probably say no anyhow. Somehow Sam, Pippin and Merry had managed to keep the lid on what had happened between the four youngsters and in the back of his mind Faramir knew that people would begin to ask questions if Merry Gamgee was in his wedding party.

He smiled at Théo and Aramac, pleased that he had at least those two with him now, and hoped that they wouldn't be able to tell how nervous he was. Théo grinned at him and gave his cheek a pinch while Aramac patted him on the shoulder and told him good luck. With a deep breath Faramir stepped outside on a cue from one of the shriffs. He had never imagined that his wedding would be considered such a formal occasion but he could see all the shriffs in uniform and all being there in the line of duty and not as guests.

As he walked down the corridor formed by the wedding guests he tried to spot Goldilocks ahead, but she was not near enough yet. After a few paces more, which felt like they took an eternity, he could see her approaching the arch from the opposite direction, she too walking through a corridor of Hobbits. He could see her sisters Primrose and Daisy behind her, then he forgot all about every other Hobbit on the meadow except for Goldilocks. They met up by the arch and he was stricken by how lovely she looked. He knew that the dress she was wearing was the one all brides of future Thains had worn, provided they could fit into it, but it was not the dress or even her face which caught his eye. Instead of a veil she wore a garland of flowers, just like the one she had worn out on the meadow on Midsummer's Eve four years ago. It felt like a secret message just for him and it warmed his heart more than any other sight so far this day.

The next thing he knew he was standing under the arch holding Goldilocks' hands in his own, waiting for the actual ceremony to start. Behind him Théo had taken Daisy under his arm and behind Goldilocks Primrose stood with her arm under Aramac's. Faramir took his eyes off his bride for a second to look at the conductor of the ceremony and was shocked to see that it was his own father. Then he marvelled at his own obliviousness, of course his father would be conducting the wedding, part of his benefits as Thain was that it gave him the right to marry people. And for a wedding such as this they would need the finest conductor they could find. Merry and Sam also had the authority, as Master and Mayor, but Tuckburough was not their turf. Pippin had a very ceremonial look on his face and the Elf cape and his Gondorian armour made him look very sovereign. In a flash Faramir felt nervous again. This was no little ceremony; it was the biggest wedding Tuckburough had seen since his own parents were married more than thirty years ago. Suddenly everything had become so frighteningly real.

XX
XX

Later that afternoon Faramir's friends grabbed a hold of him and led him away from Goldilocks' side where he had been ever since the ceremony. He was the first one to be married out of his social crowd and all his friends except for the Brandybucks thought his marriage had been arranged to bring the Took family closer to the Gamgee. Most of his friends came with reassurance that he would grow to love Goldilocks and Faramir smiled at them but didn't comment. The Brandybuck brothers didn't say anything to spoil the secret, and Faramir was glad that at least they knew the real truth.

He spotted his father in the crowd, standing next to Faramir's new father-in-law, and to Faramir's surprise Sam looked quite serious while Pippin had a huge grin from ear to ear. There was no mistaken that Pippin was in a glorious mood this particular afternoon and it made Faramir happy to see. He already knew his mother was less than pleased with the arrangement; it was nice that at least one of his parents was happy today. He wished he knew what Pippin and Sam were saying to one another.

XX
XX

"Well Sam old laddie," Pippin said and put his arm around Sam's shoulders, "finally we are family you and I, even in the family trees."

A slight smile appeared on Sam's face and Pippin couldn't help but pinch him in the ear.

"Lighten up, this is a happy day."

"I'm still concerned over whether or not it's the right thing" Sam admitted.

"Too late for that now" Pippin said. "Our children are happy, you should be too."

"You sure appear to be."

"Of course I am. I don't think I've been this happy since the day he was born. I have never seen him this happy and that's all that matters to me. Goldilocks is a Took now my dear Sam, and I am pleased that the daughter I've always wanted is one of yours."

XX
XX

Faramir kept his eyes on the two fathers and saw a smile beginning to appear on Sam's face as well. Yet there was something about him that made Faramir wonder if he had really wanted this marriage to happen. But he had given his consent and now there was no turning back.

Before he could begin to think too much he was brought back to reality by his uncle Merry who came over to give him a hug and congratulations. With an order to his sons to keep tabs on Faramir during the evening and make sure nobody tried to give him too much to drink he wandered off to find his daughter who was probably upset over being at this wedding when she would never get to marry the person she had loved for as long as Faramir had loved Goldilocks. But Faramir didn't want to think about Éowyn today, he had thought about her a lot during the past few weeks and now he was done with that. He knew that today did not just serve as a reminder to her of the relationship she would probably never get to continue, it was also the end of the future she had thought she would have ever since she was a little girl. With Faramir married to Goldilocks the match her father had always intended for her would never happen. It was probably a lot to deal with but in the end it was not Faramir's problem and he would not let it affect him today.

"Alright, off you go the lot of you!" Pippin said to the crowd around the groom and placed a hand on Faramir's shoulder. "Théodoc and Aramac where are your ladies for the evening, dinner is about to start and you should be accompanying them. The rest of you hurry off and find your places or you will have to eat on the ground."

The crowd around Faramir scattered as Théo and Aramac went to find Daisy and Primrose, and the rest went to secure their places at the tables. Faramir smiled at his grinning father and was glad he had come up to talk.

"I noticed there has been a frown on your face on and off all afternoon" Pippin said and gave Faramir a poke on the forehead. "Is there something the matter? If something's not to your liking then let me know and I will take care of it."

"Everything is wonderful, why would you think something is wrong?"

"Because I wasn't expecting you to frown, today out of all days."

"It's not that I'm not happy" Faramir admitted, finally voicing the worries he had been carrying all day. "It's just… frightening, that's all. I know it sounds crazy and you will be angry because I didn't think of this sooner, but it's dawned on me that from now on Goldilocks and I are bound together for all our lives. We have been apart for nearly two years, and to be fair we have not spent all too much time together, what if things are not the way we remember them to be? And what if we can't get along in the end, or handle an everyday life together? You've always warned me that this kind of love might burn out, and I guess I'm just a bit frightened by it…"

"You think that would make me angry?" Pippin asked and shook his head. "No, it just shows that you don't think very far ahead, you get that from me. I think it's only natural to have those doubts; you have made a huge commitment today. But Faramir as you said the two of you were parted for many months, and before that you were apart every winter. Yet your feelings for each other never faded. I see the two of you together and the way you look at one another, and there isn't a doubt in my mind that you will be able to handle whatever comes your way. Yes you will be angry with one another at times, yes sometimes you won't feel the love as strong as you do now, but that is what you get with any marriage. I know in my heart that the two of you will be happy together, if I wasn't sure of that there is no way I would have allowed you to marry her."

Faramir was caught of guard by the encouraging speech by his father and gave him a spontaneous hug.

"Thank you…" he said. Then something occurred to him. "It was you, wasn't it?"

"Was me what?"

"You who changed Sam's mind?" When Pippin didn't answer Faramir broke the hug and looked him in the eyes, seeking the truth there. "When I came to you asking for your permission I was really looking for something more than that. I didn't want just your permission, you have been the greatest influence in my life and what I wanted was your blessing. I thought that was something I would have to live without, but now I think I must have had it all along."

"Of course you had my blessing, Faramir" Pippin said. "I never objected to your choice of love interest, I was hurt and angry that you had gone behind our backs. But all of that is behind us now. I just spoke with Goldilocks about ten minutes ago, welcoming her to the family. And I meant it."

"I love you" Faramir said and hugged Pippin again. "I really do. Even though I cannot understand why you made me think you agreed to this only because you had said you would before."

"The things you treasure the most are usually the things you fought for the hardest. I wanted you to fight for her, fight in a right and good way. And you did."

XX
XX

In November, two months after the wedding, a heavy snow began to fall. It soon turned into a snow storm, trapping everyone at the Great Smials inside for two days while the snow fell and the wind blew hard outside. Luckily there were tunnels leading to the stables so that the animals could be tended to even in this type of weather, and the Hobbits had little to complain about.

Goldilocks had settled in nicely at the Smials, happy to be surrounded by so many Hobbits. She was used to having her whole family around her and it always seemed so quiet when she was alone with Faramir and his parents, she was happy to have lots of Hobbits in nearby halls. She had little to complain about, she had gotten more than she had ever asked for and Faramir and she had found it easy to adjust to having the other one around all around the clock after being apart for such a long time. Her new father-in-law had welcomed her with open arms and embraced her as the daughter he never had, holding her second only to Éowyn who had always been his daughter at heart. Her new mother-in-law however was a different story; Diamond was displeased with the match and couldn't bring herself to be more than polite to Goldilocks. The whole thing confused Faramir a great deal, he remembered vividly how his mother had been the one to comfort him and support him when his romance with Goldilocks had been revealed, while his father had been the one voicing the largest objections. But as it turned out Diamond felt very strongly about marrying into your own class, and while she had sympathized with him in the past it was a whole other thing to accept a Gamgee for a daughter-in-law. But Pippin kept her under tabs and made sure she didn't say or do anything inappropriate, yet Faramir knew that Goldilocks could sense a certain coldness coming from the Madam of the Smials.

Once the snow storm had passed Pippin looked out the window and realized that the snow from the open meadows had been blown up against the Smials and now it covered the ground level entrance. They would have to dig a tunnel to get out and he told Faramir to gather a group of sturdy young Hobbits to help them out.

Ignoring Diamonds objections that he was too old to be digging through the snow and that he might get sick, Pippin put Faramir and seven other young Hobbits into hard work while helping them to dig while trying to organize it all. Diamond kept an eye out the upstairs window to see when they would have dug their way out but it took some time.

Faramir became the first to reach the top of the snow mound and with a grunt he pulled himself up and sank down on the snow. Pippin got up shortly after him and gave him a nudge with his foot, telling him to get up on his feet. There was still much digging to be done.

"I'm exhausted!" Faramir complained.

"And I am forty years your senior yet you don't hear me crying about fatigue."

"You didn't do as much of the work" Faramir pointed out.

The next thing he knew a snowball landed right in his face. Sputtering like a cat he sat up and wiped the snow off his face. He could see his father leaned over laughing and the other Hobbits looking at them with shocked eyes. Furious Faramir grabbed a hand full of snow and threw it at Pippin, who managed to duck just in time and sent a second snowball at Faramir. This one hit him on the shoulder and Faramir threw two more snowballs at his father. It was no use however, Pippin had become a master at dodging over the years and he sent another snowball at Faramir, hitting him in the face a second time.

"What on earth are they doing?" Diamond exclaimed, watching through the window.

Goldilocks came up to her and looked out just in time to see Faramir tackle Pippin into a pile of snow.

"Goodness!" she cried.

Through the window they could see the two Hobbits wrestle around, one laughing and the other looking quite mad. After only a few minutes the older Hobbit had the younger pinned and Diamond and Goldilocks shared a look, thinking their husbands must have gone mad.

"Now do you give or will I have to wash your face with snow?" Pippin asked with a laugh.

Faramir opened his mouth to give an angry reply but then he realized how comic it all was and begun to laugh instead. Pippin rose and stretched out his hand to Faramir who took it and was pulled back up on his feet.

"It's been a long time since I've played in the snow" Pippin said with a laugh and shook his head to get the snow out of the curls.

"I cannot understand how you can be stronger than me" Faramir panted and shook his head the same way his father had done.

"Listen," Pippin said, "I have been thinking about something. Things are going well for you and Goldilocks, but living with your parents is hardly the ideal situation for a couple of newlyweds. Especially with that cranky mother of yours… When spring comes you are free to move out to Crickhollow and live on your own for a while, I think that might be good for you."

"That sounds lovely" Faramir said. "Some time to ourselves would be wonderful. For how long would you let us borrow it?"

"No, I'm giving it to you" Pippin said. "It is yours to inherit in the future anyhow and I have no use for it anymore. Half of it belongs to Merry of course but you won't have to risk him moving in there to bother you."

"I don't know what to say" Faramir said. "Other than thank you."

"No need to say anything" Pippin said. "Just get back to work."

Then he reached out to put his arm around Faramir's shoulders, but instead lifted up his collar and dropped a snowball underneath his shirt. Then he gave his son a quick pat which really boxed the snowball in and darted off with an angry Faramir at his heels.

XX
XX

"Why if it isn't the Tooks!" Merry said and motioned for Faramir and Goldilocks to come inside. "To what do we owe the pleasure of this visit, on the last of December?"

He smiled at the young couple who looked like the image of youth and health with their cheeks red from the cold outside. If he wasn't mistaken Goldilocks had a blush on her cheeks, still not quite able to believe that she was a Took now. She held her arm under Faramir's and almost seemed shy to be in Merry's private halls even though she had been there numerous times as Sam's daughter.

"We were out sleigh riding and decided to stop by" Faramir said.

"Indeed" Merry said and glanced at the clock. "Decided to stop by and see if we had some hot cider for you, perhaps?"

Now he was sure Goldilocks was blushing, but he a laughed and offered to take her coat. Faramir didn't seem the least bit troubled that their intentions had been so obvious, he took his own coat off and asked if Cordy was anywhere around.

"Somewhere in the library, I think" Merry said. "You go look, and I will take Goldilocks with me to the sitting room."

Faramir nodded and went off to the library where he indeed found Cordy reading a book in an armchair. He closed the door behind him and sat down opposite his former best friend. Cordy looked up and put his book aside.

"Hullo Faramir. How is married life treating you?"

"It could not be better" Faramir asked. "Goldilocks and I will be moving to Crickhollow when the snow melts away, and I have actually come to speak with you on that matter."

"With me?" Cordy said with a raised eyebrow.

"Well it's just that it would be mighty big for Goldie and me alone, what with her being used to having all those Gamgees around and all, and since you've lived there before I was wondering if you would care to join us out there."

"Join you?" Cordy said with a sceptical look on his face.

"Don't you recognize a peace offering when you hear one?" Faramir asked and grinned. "Come now Cordy, I know you've been angry with me but all that should be in the past by now. No more secrets from now on, I promise!"

Cordy was quiet for some time, mulling it all over. He had pretty much forgiven Faramir a long time ago; he was just stubborn and reluctant to admit that it was not quite as bad as he had reacted like it was. Finally he looked at his friend and shrugged his shoulders.

"Well it is my father's decision whether or not I can live in his house, really."

"Does that mean you will come if uncle Merry agrees?"

Cordy grinned.

"Can I trust Goldilocks to do the cooking and the cleaning?"

Faramir groaned.

"In our halls, you can clean your own."

Then he grabbed Cordy by the hand and pulled him out of the armchair. This year that had begun in such a bad way would at least end at the best note possible.

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